Shirley had scars all over her body, the result not of an accident but of cruelty: six years before, someone had locked her in her workplace and set the building on fire.
"They call me Ugly, Scarface, Gorilla," Shirley admitted on the day we met her. "Even my own family makes fun of me." Shirley knew Jesus, but she was full of shame. She hadn't been to church for a long time; she said that she kept intending to go back, but felt that she needed to get "cleaned up" first – stop drinking so that Jesus would take her back.
Our team was thrilled to share the truth with her: that Jesus had died for her to make her completely righteous, completely acceptable in God's eyes. As the words of his love for her sank into a heart starved for affection, Shirley wept.
"Because Shirley looked so different, at first I was afraid I'd react in a way that offended her," Raquel, one of our DTS students, said later. "But after she started opening up with me, I didn’t think about it at all. As she was telling me her story, I could see in her eyes the desperation and loneliness that she had been feeling for so long." Raquel began to share with Shirley how God sees her: as beautiful, as his precious jewel.
The next day our went back. Shirley was shocked that Raquel remembered her name and even came back to see her. That's when she shared that she had tried several times in the past to kill herself so she could finally escape her pain and loneliness. Somehow it had never worked; still, the day before she'd been planning to try again. But then she'd met our team, and God changed her mind. She told Raquel she was ready to give up her anger, give up her addictions, even forgive the person who'd burned her.
The day before we left South Africa, Raquel and Shirley walked arm and arm through the township. "I'll never forget you," Shirley told Raquel. "You're the one who helped me come back to Jesus!"